September 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm EST | by Mark Lee
Body art: All the markings of D.C. regulatory pain
tattoo, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Department of Health is considering regulatory changes governing skin tattoo and body piercing businesses. (Photo by Michael Deschenes via Wikimedia Commons)

Another bewildering instance of D.C. government regulatory overreach became the talk of the town last Friday. When the Associated Press offered it up as national news later in the day, District officials once again became the messengers of an unselfconscious citizen-as-imbecile perspective and symbols of an unabashed government-as-goddess proclivity.

Hot off the presses were proposed D.C. Department of Health rules governing skin tattoo and body piercing businesses. Buried in a lengthy 66-page head-hurting avalanche of regulations, one provision garnered attention. The agency had determined that a “waiting period” be instituted requiring that all adults delay a day before being allowed to get a tattoo or have their body pierced.

“The licensee or operator of a body art establishment shall ensure that no tattoo artist applies any tattoo to a customer until after twenty-four (24) hours have passed since the customer first requested the tattoo,” the edict specifies, also applying to piercings. The inevitable compliance paperwork and signature-confirmed time-stamped filing forms would undoubtedly follow.

“The District may be giving New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nanny state a run for its money,” was the top-line assessment of Washington City Paper reporting on the announcement. In fact, only a very few small towns scattered around the country require anything similar, with nary a like law among cities.

Washington would be instituting the most prohibitive rules governing tattoos and piercings in the country.

Surely there must have been a rash of controversial consumer incidents or a series of harmful health-related catastrophes to warrant such intrusion. Perhaps widespread remorse by now-complaining customers caused by unscrupulous artists and technicians utilizing magically seductive powers of persuasion.


All it took was discovery by D.C. Council members, still trumpeted by Committee on Health Chair Yvette Alexander, that local service purveyors were merely subject to standard business licensing, operating and tax regulations – resulting in passage of the Regulation of Body Artists and Body Art Establishments Act. Rankled legislators deployed city agency regulators tasked with developing special rules governing the small number of artists and parlors in the District. The result was all too predictable.

Instructing bureaucrats to behave as hammers in search of a nail is akin to unleashing them with magnets in a hardware store.

It’s not even the stereotypic drunk-as-a-sailor what-is-this-thing-on-my-butt morning-after reaction that worries them. Businesses don’t object to banning body artistry or flesh piercings for clients impaired by intoxication, already a professional practices guideline observed by vendors.

No, government functionaries are attempting to outlaw regret.

The all-too-intrinsic paternalistic zeal for regulation among D.C. lawmakers and officials was most nakedly embodied in a statement defending the rule by Health Department spokesperson Najma Roberts, reported by the Washington Post. Roberts declared that those seeking tattoos or piercings “can’t be responsible for themselves … We’re making sure when that decision is made that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you don’t wake up in the morning … saying, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’”

Government apparently knows best what’s good for us – whether we want, need or like it.

Never-mind that walk-in clients constitute half of business volume, with revenue impact expected to be significant. Customer decisions, however, are not typically spontaneous. Given the popularity of both services among gay and lesbian residents, the community is well aware of the commonplace advance consideration and deliberative artistic planning involved.

Owners have indicated their businesses won’t remain financially viable or be able to meet overhead under such restrictions. Relocation to neighboring Virginia or Maryland in order to survive is the obvious business solution. Otherwise, customers might go there ahead of them seeking convenience.

What we really need is protection from the type of regulatory ridiculousness that has become so commonplace as to only capture public attention when most outlandish.

We’ll love or hate our own choices, thank you very much, without interference. Please step aside.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

  • Personally, I am not a big fan of tattoos, but I am also not a big fan of nanny-statism, including this example. So the city government wants to take a more active role in adults' choices over their own bodies? What could possibly go wrong? Besides, it's not as though either tattoo parlors or potential customers could go to Virginia or Maryland or to a hack in the underground economy.

  • So glad the council is focussing on important matters like crime, affordable housing, taxes, and job creation. I am actually curious to know if rampant regretful tattooing has reached such epidemic proportions that the city council has felt the outcry of the citizenry to tame this horrid behavior. I think it’s time to make the DC City Council positions like a cashier job at Wal-Mart (20 hours a week at 8 bucks and hour) with morality clauses…that might force them to go out and get second or third jobs to keep them busy and out of our hair.

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2018. All rights reserved.
Blade Blast

Get the latest LGBTQ news to your inbox every Thursday!